Notes 60.2 (2003) 425-426
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Music in Puerto Rico: A Reader's Anthology. Edited and translated by Donald Thompson. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. [viii, 145 p. ISBN 0-8108-3914-8. $34.95.] Index.
Donald Thompson provides yet another valuable reference work on the music history of Puerto Rico, an endeavor in which he has made several major contributions over the last two decades. Music in Puerto Rico: A Reader's Anthology is a compilation of historical and critical readings, translated into English, concerning Puerto Rican music and covering five centuries of musical documentation from 1495 to 1997. The musical traditions represented include aboriginal, traditional folk, popular—both urban and rural, and concert music. Given such wide chronological and thematic range, it is to be expected that this anthology does not aim to provide a thorough coverage of each historical period or each musical tradition. Instead, it offers an overview of Puerto Rico's rich musical life and a concise introduction of the subject for music students and scholars.
The anthology is divided into six chapters, the organization of which is not very consistent because of its alternation of chronological and thematic divisions. After an initial chapter on historical documents about indigenous music from the period of the Spanish conquest, the second chapter deals with traditional folk and popular music with readings from 1788 to 1922, and the third chapter focuses on nineteenth-century musical life. This organization also obscures the fact that significant historical periods are left untouched—between 1552 and 1826 there are only two readings—and that there is no inclusion of documents dealing with colonial church music before 1868.
"Chronicles of Conquest: Aboriginal Music Observed and Envisioned" opens the collection with readings that do not represent actual descriptions of Puerto Rican aboriginal music. Instead, Thompson collects reports by early chroniclers—Fray Ramón Pané, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, among others—who recorded mainly native practices from other islands of the Antilles, such as Jamaica, Cuba, and Hispaniola. The treatment of music during the first three centuries of Spanish domination is limited to the ten pages of this chapter, and to one additional reading from the eighteenth century in the following chapter. As previously mentioned, the anthology does not cover musical activities in cathedrals and missions or other types of secular musical practices during these important centuries of European cultural assimilation.
The next three chapters, "Mountain, Plain, and Town: Traditional Folk and Popular Music," "Nineteenth-Century Musical Life," and "The Puerto Rican Danza," concentrate primarily on the nineteenth century. They cover a wide range of musical traditions: popular dances (including the well known seis enojao) and songs, musical instruments, music among African slaves, concert and lyric music, church and military music, and an entire chapter devoted to the danza puertorriqueña. In addition to valuable information these records provide about actual musical practices, the readings also amply illustrate the biased perspectives of some of the authors in their observations about "uncivilized" cultural artifacts, particularly in the "Mountain, Plain, and Town" chapter. For example, Francisco del Valle Atiles, writing in the second half of the nineteenth century, describes several "rustic musical instruments" such as the maraca ("[a] primitive representative of the musical instrument of almost all uncivilized lands," p. 22), the güiro, the tiple, and the cuatro, and concludes that "the construction of these instruments obeys no rational artistic concept" (p. 22). Also noticeable in the readings is the rather limited attention that nineteenth-century writers gave to African musical influence, as well as the racist views that they often [End Page 425] presented. Manuel Alonso, in his often cited descriptions of Puerto Rican dances from his El gíbaro (Barcelona: Juan Oliveres, 1849; reprint, El Jíbaro [Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Ediciones Huracán, 2001]), chooses not to include dances of African origin, stating that "The dances of the blacks of Africa and of the natives of Curaçao do not merit inclusion here; although they are seen in Puerto Rico they have never become widespread...